NICOLA Sturgeon has suggested she is confident Scotland is “entering a calmer phase of the pandemic” but has warned “case levels are likely to remain high for some time.
In her weekly update to Holyrood on the pandemic, the First Minister said the Scottish Government’s revised framework for dealing with the pandemic in the long-term will be published after Holyrood’s February recess.
She said the new framwork “will set out in some detail our approach to managing Covid more sustainably in the remaining phases of the pandemic and then as the virus hopefully becomes endemic”.
Ms Sturgeon confirmed that no other measures, including the use of vaccine passports and face masks in certain public places, will be lifted for at least three weeks.
She said that following discussions this morning, the Scottish Government Cabinet has decided to “keep the remaining base-line measures in place for now”.
The First Minister also told MSPs that “although we may be close to the time” when face coverings are no longer needed in schools, “we have not yet reached that stage”.
Speaking in Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said: “We can continue to be optimistic, as we look ahead to spring.
“Case levels are likely to remain high for some time – and may increase further as a result of the recent easing of protections. But there are good grounds for confidence that we are again entering a calmer phase of the pandemic.”
Ms Sturgeon cautioned that “the NHS remains under acute pressure”, highlighting that “the number of people in hospital with Covid is falling – but it is still double what it was just before Christmas”.
She also warned that as measures are lifted and the impact is seen, “cases may start to rise again”, potentially “exacerbating the already significant pressure on the NHS”.
The First Minster also updated MSPs on a sub-variant of Omicron, known as BA.2, which has been “designated as a variant under investigation”.
She said: “In the last week, the proportion of PCR tests with an S Gene dropout – which indicates the main Omicron variant – has declined, with a corresponding increase in the proportion of tests showing S Gene positive results.
“This could be accounted for by Delta cases which also show positive S Gene results. However, it may also indicate increasing transmission of the BA.2 sub variant.”
Ms Sturgeon said that “genomic sequencing is being used to investigate this further” and confirmed that 26 cases of BA.2 in Scotland has been confirmed.
She added that “we expect this number to increase as more sequencing results are reported”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “It is important to stress that, at this stage, there is no evidence that BA.2 causes more severe disease than the main Omicron variant. Nor, at this stage, is there any evidence that BA.2 has any greater ability to escape the immunity conferred by vaccines or previous infection.
“However, BA.2 does appear to have the ability to out-run the main Omicron variant, which may indicate that it is more transmissible.
“Investigations into this are ongoing, both in the UK and in other countries, such as Denmark, where the sub-variant has been circulating for longer. At the moment, therefore, the BA.2 variant is not a cause for any alarm or change in approach, but it does warrant further study.”